August 2022

Hydrangeas surrounding a table in the garden
Photo by Elissa

My hydrangea garden in full bloom.

Alexandra sitting amid the hydrangeas in her garden.
Photo by Elissa

In my favorite place, amid the hydrangeas.

Dear Friends,

I love you!

Happy August! I feel blessed to write this newsletter for you each month. I have known since I was a young girl that letters are indeed gifts we give ourselves. The pleasure I derive from corresponding with you is indescribably delicious. I’m forever grateful we are staying in touch.

Letters are specific, intimate and immediate. I’ve written about the one book that changed my life: Letters to a Young Poet, by Rilke. He teaches us to live the questions. “And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

The correspondence between these two poets is brilliant. The young poet asks Rilke if his poems are any good. Rilke’s reply to the searching young poet—go inward. The deepest questions any of us can ask ultimately must come from inside our soul.

Blue, purple and pink hydrangeas
Photo by Elissa

My favorite hydrangeas are blue, but this year a few other colors appeared in the garden as well!

One of my favorite passages from this tender correspondence is one of Rilke’s letters. “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it, blame yourself because you are not poet enough to call forth its richness.”

In an article in the New York Times Magazine, there was an interview with Krista Tippett by David Marchese, “on the need to counter the dysfunction of our time,” that mentioned Rilke’s letters. Tippett talks about hope being a muscle. “It’s not wishful thinking,” she told Marchese. “It’s an imaginative leap.” Tippett received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2014.

“I feel a sense of calling,” she said. “I’m attending to the pain in our world. I’m attending to the human. … Can we attend to the power of love and joy, which actually do move things? … It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing, but maybe it has to be as beautiful as I can make it.” When we choose to live a beautiful life, the smallest details are made meaningful, making ourselves feel better because we enhanced the natural beauty.

Each one of us has a spark of the divine in us. How we use our gifts to spread love and light in the world may not be how we support ourselves financially. Tippett said, “Your calling may be something that gives you joy but that you’re never going to get paid for. It can be how you show up through your day, how you treat strangers. It’s the things that amplify your best humanity. … We all intuitively know what it is.”

I know how satisfying it is to write a letter to someone I love. When I send my ship out to sail, I feel I’m connected to faraway friends I want to know are in my thoughts.

Pink geraniums in a window box in front of blue shutters.
Photo by Elissa

I still marvel at the beauty of my geraniums against my blue shutters every time I see them.

Everyone Is Struggling

No matter how stoic people are, or how good they are at acting and masking their deep emotions—no matter what they appear to be in public—everyone is going through a painful period. This is a global reality. You and I are not alone, never have been, never will be. While I have been able to feel great joy for the entire month of July, everyone I’ve been in touch with is being challenged; some friends are struggling to hold everything together. Emotional pain is invisible and as devastating as physical pain.

One vitally important lesson I’ve learned is that we never know what’s going on in someone else’s brain. We are not here to judge others or blame them for their emotional turmoil. The more loving and openly compassionate we are, the greater our capacity to empathize with the agonies of our fellow human family. I’ve often written that our vulnerabilities are our strengths. When we have the courage to face reality, we become wide open to the universal sorrows of the world. Rather than becoming discouraged, we can become motivated to do something to help. Never underestimate the powers of your genuine caring and concern to help lift someone else’s spirits. No loving, kind gesture will go unappreciated.

White gardenia with hydrangeas in the background.
Photo by Elissa

The gorgeous white gardenia blossom amid the garden flowers.

When we share our own intimately poignant stories in a trusting relationship, this helps us clarify our thinking, deepening the bond between us and helping us move onward in the right direction. Our society encourages us to play roles. We keep up our appearances that are outer (or other!) directed. We try to fit in. But when we try to conform to some materialistic norm that is not authentic, we block our ch’i, our vital energy. We will never fit into some way of thinking and being that doesn’t allow us to be true to ourselves. Our soul is our guiding light, requiring us to mindfully cultivate the best and most beautiful aspects of our character. Rather than trying to conform, we can focus our positive energies on what brings us our greatest sense of purpose and joy.

As we envelop ourselves into deeper, more honest relationships, we feel relaxed and free to say anything and everything that we are feeling. We learn so much about each other when we let down our guard. This truth telling can only happen among trusted confidants. We learn how much alike we are fundamentally, at our core. Somehow we’re able to clarify fresh new ways to express our passions and gifts. These friendships are extremely rare, but everyone we meet can teach us something that helps us on our path toward wisdom. When we compassionately listen, we open ourselves up to different points of view that are both stimulating and can illuminate our journey toward greater self-discovery. Let everyone teach us something from their perspective, not ours.

Painting by Pierre Lesieur in front of a white table
Photo by Elissa

I moved this Lesieur painting from the hallway into the kitchen, where I can fully enjoy its beauty.

Being human requires us to be critical thinkers. Thinking animals are complex. Navigating a path toward greater inner peace and calm requires a great deal of inner reflection and the discipline to actually live according to our highest values, our core principles. Nothing important in life is easy. The invisible reflective work we do requires our commitment and time, always bringing us closer to the fundamental truths of our soul’s essence.

I’m humbled to realize that some of you have been corresponding with me ever since Doubleday published Style for Living: How to Make Where You Live You. Forty-eight years ago, I began receiving your gifts of letters! Our correspondence has always brought me great joy. I can’t imagine any other life than the one I’ve been so blessed to enjoy with so many friends I’ve connected with from being a writer.

Because of my limited mobility in my hands, I’m not able to answer all the letters and messages I would like. The fact that you continue to send your loving messages my way brings me incomparable pleasure. Thank you. Thank you. Know that your stories and kind words make me feel our genuine human bond. Our staying connected is vitally important, as we give and receive love with open hearts.

Painting by Pierre Lesieur in front of a white table
Photo by Elissa

Miniature gardenia bonsais from Alexandra. Hope springs eternal.

Your words are generous and kind. You give me too much credit for helping you navigate your various life chapters. You are the ones who read some of my words and somehow, mysteriously, they resonated with you. Give yourself credit for all your personal growth as you continue to find great pleasure in your daily lives. I love being part of your lives, seeing your children grow and learning how you meet your most difficult challenges. I love you unconditionally and wholeheartedly. How do I know? Because I love life just as it is. I’m sucking the marrow off the bone of life. The mere fact of being here, now, is enough reason to celebrate. Love is IT.

I want to share certain passages from some recent letters, notes, postcards and emails that illustrate your fine qualities, your generous spirits and your appreciation for our connection. I’ve not included deeply personal stories to protect your privacy. Notice the emphasis on beauty, light and love.

Since you are my favorite author, I named my daughter Alexandra. (To me this is a beautiful name.)

Your writings introduced me to fountain pens, ink, and lovely stationery, including art notecards. (I was talking to a gentleman one day, and I discovered, he was introduced to fountain pens because of your writings.)

I met you one time, when you were on stage. Peter was in the back. You showed him the pink and white quilt you had purchased. My husband enjoyed talking with Peter during this time. (This was the most beautiful quilt I have ever seen.) During our visit, I mentioned to you about wanting to offer Journal Writing classes, and you said, “Do it.” After some time, I did. These classes were informative and enjoyable. It led to me writing and publishing a couple of articles.

Thank you, Alexandra, for touching my heart in many ways.

Lou from Indiana

We’ve now been in our new place a month and a half. It’s been an adventure finding a place for all my books, ordering new furniture, getting rid of things that no longer speak to us. Tomorrow the painters come to get rid of all the gray and blue and cover it with a creamy white that will reflect all the beautiful light that comes in our large windows.

Amy from Chicago

Two blue and yellow journals
Photo by Stephanie

I was taking notes from your newsletter today (I always do!), and realized that the journals are the colors of the Ukrainian flag.  Thank you for your wonderful writing that has profoundly influenced me for 3 decades now.  I love you!


Bee on a blue hydrangea
Photo by Elissa

A little bee on a blue hydrangea.

I learned to occasionally buy a single flower, or three red tulips, and delight in their gift of ephemeral beauty. I learned to appreciate the few special dishes from my mom and my gram and remind myself that their philosophical approaches to life were their greatest gifts.

Constance from South Dakota

Your writing has always been so inspirational to me, encouraging me to love and enjoy beauty and to especially appreciate love and learning! I too am, at age 78, more fully realizing and treasuring our connection to all that is—this glorious life! Thank you for being you and sharing so deeply with us all throughout your life!

Lana from California

I was perusing my postcard collection today from the trip Charles and I took to France in 2014. I recall thinking of you often when visiting Giverny–especially when in the yellow and blue room. Today it reminds me of you again and your (and our) solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine. Sending so much love,

Karen from Washington

I discovered your book Living a Beautiful Life at the library in my early thirties. How I saw daily rituals changed. It was as though I was looking at life through different eyes. I am glad I discovered you at a young age to open my eyes to the beauty of everyday living. It changed me forever.

Catherine from Tennessee

You have given me so much joy and happiness throughout the years! I continue to reread all your books, which are now quite worn. I have highlighted so many of the passages with different colored pencils and markers that most pages are radiant rainbows, punctuating the rainbows of wisdom they contain. A double rainbow!

I think of my dear departed mother, who was a librarian and believed in the sacredness of books, and treated them with the tenderness of a young mother holding her newborn child.

Your optimistic, poetic, metaphorical and humble teachings have illuminated my path, and continue to do so.

Monica from Massachusetts

Blue morning glories in a pot
Photo by Elissa

Blue morning glories growing at the base of my ficus tree.

Sharing Cherié

Cherié, your steady stream of mail continues to reinforce the gift of life’s many ways to spread joy. Thank you for all your information and inspiration that sweetens my days. Your presence is mysteriously stimulating and I’m grateful to be illuminated by you. Thank you, my friend.

Excerpts from notes from Cherié:

♡  “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected on the deep.” —William James

I’m wishing you a summer filled with rituals, discoveries, revelations and illuminations.


♡  This is a short note to express my love and appreciation for your hydrangea letter. Thank you.


♡  “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” —Henry James

Wishing you a summer filled with joy.


♡  “Kind hearts are the gardens; kind thoughts are the roots; kind words are the flowers; kind deeds are the fruits.” —English Proverb

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” —Seneca

Kindness matters.


♡  Voluntary simplicity “means … sincerity and honesty within. … It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions.” You exemplify this. Your reordering of your life in the present is heartening. Your sharing of your aging, surgeries and pain has helped many who are in similar situations.


♡  Congratulations on your Summer Solstice early dawn breakfast in your garden, while watching the sailboats in the harbor. What a perfect mindful experience! I’m reveling in your joy.


♡  “Live in the sunshine. Swim in the sea. Drink the wild air.” —Emerson


♡  “All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer—one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going—one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.” —L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams


♡  “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” —Abraham Lincoln


♡  Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Flowers, paintings, swizzle sticks and marbles on display on the counter.
Photo by Elissa

I found these little treasures while cleaning and organizing my house and now have them on display in my kitchen.

July Family Reunion

Alexandra and her husband, three children and golden retriever came for an annual family reunion in Stonington. Scheduling Nicholas, Anna and Lily to take time off from their summer jobs wasn’t easy, but everyone arrived to spectacular weather the entire vacation. We enjoyed our times together, no one got sick, and Alexandra and I were able to do some more work on “Three.”

I can envision myself going up to this private sanctuary when the weather is cooler, and the sun goes down earlier, enjoying working on a variety of different projects. I also look forward to reading some art books and gazing at Lord Alastair Gordon's floral watercolors. The windows on “Three” are in the front and back of the space, making the watercolors safe from fading in the sun. When the garden isn’t in bloom, it’s so inspiring to see the wonders of nature’s beauty.

I intend to savor each precious moment of August, the way I appreciated July’s abundance. The sweet corn, peaches and watermelon are a seasonal treat. I’m also enjoying ice cream cones whenever friends and I are feeling over the top. I’ll enjoy more road trips to farm country in Rhode Island and Connecticut, stopping in farm stands to feed the eye and nourish the body.

Alexandra sitting at a table in the dining room
Photo by Elissa

My clean, organized dining room!

New Homes for My Possessions

The dining room was the landing space for the things I was storing away, not using. Mrs. Brown’s advice to her design staff was timeless. When one thing changes, rethink everything. Peter died, and while I feel his spirit-energy in every corner and space, some of his favorite things should be passed on to lawyers and people who will appreciate his memorabilia. When we renovated the cottage in 2008, we put in lots of ceiling lights, making the decorative lamps and shades unnecessary. My quilt collection ended up on “Three.” And then I woke up to the reality that storing beautiful plates and decorative objects away where I couldn’t enjoy them is enervating.

Alexandra's dining room table covered in items to give away
Photo by Elissa

The dining room before.

The Stonington Consign to Design shop two blocks away on Water Street has two windows displaying my French Faience collection in one window and my Vietri Italian whimsical pottery from Positano in the other. I love hearing that so many of our friends are giving these treasured collections a place in their homes to use and enjoy.

When I deliberately pass on collections I’ve loved and used regularly, I’m living more conscientiously and creating time and space for my inner life. I’m embracing the reality that less is more. I’m letting go of excess. I’m simplifying by bringing my life into the present reality of what I can comfortably use and maintain. I have all my memories of the object’s meaning to me. I’m now yearning to travel more lightly on our precious planet Earth. I’m now free to spend more time in nature’s beauty with friends, carrying all the extraordinary joys of my earlier days with me in my heart and mind.

Happy August!

Love & Live Happy,

Kevin and Alexandra standing next to a pink rosebush
Photo by Charlie

My angel Kevin, who helps me with my garden.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” —Leonardo da Vinci

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn

“He who knows he has enough is rich.” —Lao Tzu